A Map for Everywhere (London)

Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you travelled.      

-Mohamed

 

Like any traveller, I’ve got a  list of all the places I’ve been to hidden somewhere on my person that I can whip out to impress people at a moments notice.  Don’t ask why, we do, the answer will include us showing you the aforementioned list(even though you didn’t ask to see it) and a five hour discussion of how each city we’ve been it some how better than the city you’re from.  But it occurred to me that while I like to hear myself talk, chances are you don’t.  Instead you can read about some of the places on my list here, beginning with that big beautiful comfortable and marvelous city: London.

Carnaby Street

 

CAVEATS

I only got the spend about a week in London and I was more tourist than traveller in this case. This was more the result of the friends I was travelling with than anything else.  We all had places we wanted to see with limited time. Do I care about the London Eye? No.  Did I really need to see Westminister Abbey, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace?  Hell NO(Seriously, I do not care about these places and frankly they won’t add in any way to your experiences in London.  Seriously.  SERIOUSLY).  But I did, travelling is also about compromise, so we all saw a few places we all wanted to see.

When I went to London, I was in the company of three of my favourite people in this world: Bryan, Dani, and Al(from left to right).

Al, Dani, and Bryan

I had the honour and pleasure of travelling with them for most of my time in Europe and almost all of London.  All three of them made it unforgettable and I salute each of them.

HOSTELS

While in London, I stayed at a hostel near the Oxford Circus subway station, and anyone who knows me will know I love hostels. Hotels have the pedigree with rooms where famous events happened and famous people stayed, but hostels have the people, the benefit of not sending me on frequent trips to the frozen throne.  At this particular hostel I got to spend a night chatting with

  • a girl from Quebec who quite literally put my geek cred to shame using a small handful of pictures on her phone,
  • three ladies who I played twister with from Leon who were making their way home after a concert,
  • two guys from New Mexico that literally spent an hour showing me how my entire concept of Mexican and American food was wrong,
  • and a retired Austrailian/Chinese woman who was shocked and horrified when we discovered we couldn’t order Chinese food for delivery at midnight.

In one night.  I spent one night at the hostel(jet lag was kicking my ass and taking names) and I met all these people in ONE NIGHT.  Stay at a hostel(a private room is absolutely worth the extra) and meet some of the most fascinating people of your life.

VHA Oxford Street

Not only will you meet a thousand interesting people, you’ll wake up without needing to shake the toilet with something you ate at the hotel restaurant.  It’s a personal rule when travelling: I don’t eat at that free breakfast buffet the hotel offers.  Almost universally I’ve gotten sick at them and they always give you some kind of breakfast you’d get in North America.  You’re travelling, the point is to experience something new and different.  At a hostel you will almost certainly get an inexpensive or possibly free(you prepare it) local breakfast usually with fruit and coffee.  If you actually want to have a “North American” breakfast then YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.

The next afternoon I had a few hours where all three of us split up and did our own thing.  I didn’t have the time for a trip to places I really wanted to go, so back at the hostel I went to a convenient notice board that gave me directions for a ghost tour pub crawl of London.  We went to five different “haunted” locals and five bars with some very cool supernatural history(all of which I naturally bought at least two pints at).   Hostels get you right into the culture of the city you’re in.  Hotels will do it only after selling you a 100 dollar tour through the city on a party bus you’re sharing with Bob from Wisconsin.

THE UNDERGROUND

What an incredible experience.  In the London Underground you will be simultaneously cold, hot, sweaty, dirty, deafened, and constantly worried if you’re getting on the right colour coordinated train.  Some of the trains feel so old you’re left considering the possibility more than one person died on it, others run down tracks that make the car shake in a frightening and comforting way.  Honestly, use it. It connects to almost all of London and multiple trains will connect to the same place you need to go to.  Non of this waiting for the next train business, hop on this line, change at that station, and hop on that train and double back on this other line.  For someone from a city with a handful of train lines that only has two overlapping lines, it’s a confusing and wonderful introduction to the way subway systems work in major cities.  Get on, get ready to be lost, and be happy it’s all in English.

MONEY

Whoo boy.  This is a big one.  So, yeah.  London is crazy expensive.  I usually measure these kinds of things based on how much money I need to spend in a restaurant to get drunk.  In London, a pint of Guinness was 6 to 8 pounds.  Roughly speaking that’s somewhere between 11 and 14 and half dollars.  In Vancouver a Guinness for about 6 or 7 bucks.  The first pub I was taken to by some family friends of Al and Bry charged 7 pounds per pint.  It took four to get me buzzed.  I might have also been falling asleep like a cat in a sunbeam because of the flight, but it was clearly not the beer.  So four pints cost me 13 bucks each, 52 bucks for four pints.  That’s an expensive buzz.

007

(Thinking back, it IS called the “Dickens Inn”.  It might have just been that place which was so expensive for a pint)

On the other hand, that same night three of us went to a local supermarket that was selling 24 Strongbow for 14 pounds.  Yeah, things got pretty fun after than.  If you’re at a hostel, try and buy your meals and prepare them at the FREE KITCHEN that any hostel worth it’s salt will provide.  Buying food and drink at a restaurant in London is gonna cost ya.  To this day Dani still talks about a “scooby” sammich she got for 10 pounds.  It was a bloody brilliant sammich, just don’t expect to be buying one more than once.

The small places on the side streets were significantly cheaper(side street fish and chips being about 4-6 pounds) and Camden Market was also quite reasonable. But chances are it’s all gonna be more expensive than you’re used to.  Actually, Camden was a madhouse of food, clothes, gifts, colours, sounds and people.  Go there and shop, it’s a blast and you’ll find a little shop in there that you would have never expected to find anywhere.  The outdoor food court there had food from all over the world where the four of us needed a private moment.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Guinness really is better over there.  Honestly, that delicious black gold is somehow better the closer you get to Ireland.  Cardiff is even closer and Guinness was even more fantastic there.

My alcoholic predilections aside, London is a place where just walking down the cobblestone streets is an experience.  To visit a place and feel the history and movement of the city through your feet is a unique feeling you won’t get anywhere else.  The buildings bleed history and the food was honestly great. My last morning in London I purposely went downstairs in my hostel, asked the nice lady behind the desk(who I also spent half an hour chatting with the night before) for a place to get a classic English breakfast.  She sent me down the street to a joint with super low ceilings where the breakfast was exactly what I wanted, and it was great.  Don’t let anyone lie to you about the state of English cuisine.

English breakfast

London was brilliant, I’d go again, and again, and again.  Go with friends and have a ball, and be sure to get completely lost at least once.

-GJ

 

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